If you were watching the three-part documentary Waco: American Apocalypse, you might be wondering how did David Koresh die?

As the leader of the Branch Davidians, David Koresh (born Vernon Howell) was groomed to be the successor of the group by the Branch Davidian Seventh-day Adventist Association’s founder’s wife Lois Roden. He released the “New Light” audiotape, where he told the group that God told him to procreate with the women (those who were also underage) in the group, and claimed that God had told him to start building an “Army for God.”

The Waco Tribune-Herald published “The Sinful Messiah” which reported on allegations that Howell (who legally changed his name to David Koresh) physically abused children in the compound and committed statutory rape. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) was then notified that a UPS driver had a package broken open on delivery to the Branch Davidians that revealed around six grenades. The ATF obtained a warrant and executed their search on February 28, 1993. The Branch Davidians were notified of the search beforehand and shots were fired and four agents were killed. The FBI took control and the siege lasted 51 days to end on April 19, 1993. A majority of the Davidians died in the Waco Siege while some of the survivors were arrested and put on trial afterward.

So, how did David Koresh die?

How did David Koresh die?

David Koresh

Image: Courtesy of Netflix

How did David Koresh die? According to the New York Times at the time on May 3, 1993, David Koresh’s death is attributed to a gunshot wound to the head before a fire destroyed the Branch Davidians’ compound. It’s unknown whether he killed himself or was shot by someone else.

His body was pulled from the compound on April 22, but it took several days to piece his broken skull together, Justice of the Peace David Pareya said. After the siege, investigators pulled 72 bodies, including the remains of 17 children and two Pregnant women. “The condition of the body was about the condition of the rest of the bodies that were there, extensive burning,” Pareya said. Four ATF agents were also killed in the siege. Before taking over the Mount Carmel Center in Waco, Texas, Koresh was involved with Lois Roden’s son, George, in a gunfight. He was charged with attempted murder but it was declared a mistrial.

Though, Koresh was looking towards the Second Coming or Armageddon. He told his followers that the purpose of his Second Coming was to supervise Armageddon and make difficult choices on Judgement day. He told them he needed to indulge in all the sins so that when the end of the world came, he could speak from experience. He was alleged to be involved in multiple incidents of physical and sexual abuse of children, including fathering children with underage girls in the cult.

When the FBI took the lead of the siege, Malcolm Gladwell of the New Yorker described how it was set up as  “probably the largest military force ever gathered against a civilian suspect in American history.” The forces had “ten Bradley tanks, two Abrams tanks, four combat-engineering vehicles, six hundred and sixty-eight agents in addition to six U.S. Customs officers, fifteen U.S. Army personnel, thirteen members of the Texas National Guard, thirty-one Texas Rangers, a hundred and thirty-one officers from the Texas Department of Public Safety, seventeen from the McLennan County sheriff’s office, and eighteen Waco police, for a total of eight hundred and ninety-nine people.”

David Koresh

Image: Courtesy of Netflix

In response to allegations of owning illegal firearms to CNN via Newsweek, Koresh said, “It’s not against the law to buy a firearm, it’s not against the law to buy anything at a gun show.” He also reacted to the ATF’s use of tanks and other weapons, saying: “Being an American first, I’ll be the kind of guy who will stand in front of the tank. You can run over me and I’ll be fighting, no one will hurt my family […] you could have arrested me any day […] I do not appreciate it and never will I appreciate somebody coming here with two helicopters, things like that, and pushing people around with guns.” He finally warned, “Somebody will get hurt. If you want to keep playing that game, I’m talking to you, somebody is going to get hurt. Cos this ain’t America anymore when the ATF has that kind of power to come into anybody’s home and kick doors down and things like that.”

At the time, The Texas Monthly described the tragedy as something that was forthcoming by the mastermind of Koresh himself. “For 51 days federal agents camped outside the compound, paralyzed by their own ineptitude, while this notorious liar and con man was permitted to broadcast his incoherent message to the world. The authorities must have known that it was all a sham … but Koresh had given them no choice. The feds were the hostages, the ones who were surrounded without hope. They kept assuring [the public] that they weren’t about to be drawn into a firefight, then permitted exactly that to happen. … What happened at Mount Carmel was not suicide; it was Holy War. Just as Koresh had prophesied.”

Some survivors spoke out about the siege including Clive Doyle to Texas Monthly. “Whatever David had must have been pretty good, for people to give up their lives to live on this hill, with its fire ants and inconveniences. They came and stayed because they found answers they couldn’t find anyplace else – answers and knowledge they’d been searching for.”  

Darcey Steinke covered the standoff for SPIN and criticized how the siege turned out. “I think it was the government’s fault… Koresh jogged every day at the same time on the same route [before the siege]. And so if they wanted to take him, they could have just pulled up in a police car and arrested him,” she said. “It was insane to come to the compound of an obviously unstable person—who you know has a ton of weapons—with heavily armed ATF agents.”

Waco: American Apocalypse is now available to stream on Netflix.

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